South Shields suffered their first away league loss of the season on Saturday as Ryhope CW closed the gap at the top of Northern League Division Two.
The Mariners now lead the table by six points, and second-placed Ryhope have a game in hand following their 3-2 victory.
Shields found themselves 2-1 down at half-time, with the hosts scoring from two set-pieces either side of a well-taken header by Lewis Teasdale.
A third Ryhope goal left the Mariners with much to do in the closing stages, and despite a tremendous free-kick by John Grey on his debut, they could not quite do enough to snatch a point as their 14-match unbeaten run in the league came to an end.
It capped a frustrating few days for Shields following Wednesday’s defeat to Morpeth Town on penalties in the FA Vase.
From the early stages, it was clear that Ryhope were going to present them with a stern test, with the hosts quick to put their opponents under pressure.
An early warning shot was fired when Josh Home-Jackson’s powerful effort was deflected over the bar, while at the other end, Ben Riding had a decent attempt blocked.
A big opportunity for the home side arrived in the 16th minute when Nathan O’Neill passed the ball across the box to Conor Winter, but he spooned it well over as the Mariners were given a let-off.
However, it was to prove a temporary reprieve, with Ryhope scoring in the next minute. David Gordon’s low corner was played back to him, and he curled in a delivery which O’Neill got his head to first.
Shields goalkeeper Scott Pocklington managed to get a hand on the effort, but that only diverted it into the air before the ball looped into the bottom corner.
The visitors were stung into action, and some positive play down the right led to a powerful effort from Adam Sakr from a tight angle which Christopher Rookes tipped behind.
On 25 minutes, the Mariners pulled level when Danny Carson curled in a superb cross from the right and Teasdale met it with an equally good header as he guided the ball past Rookes.
Barrie Smith and Teasdale clipped shots wide as the league leaders looked to go in front, but they were caught out at the other end from a Gordon corner.
The left-back’s delivery proved menacing, and Pocklington committed himself to it as he opted to punch. However, he was unable to get clean contact on it as it bounced into the air before looping down on the goal-line, where Winter forced it in.
Michael Turner found Warren Byrne with a superb ball on the left, and the striker ran through on goal before seeing his low effort excellently kept out by the foot of Rookes as Shields increased the pressure.
Another chance arrived when Leepaul Scroggins burst through the centre before seeing an effort blocked, while Shields went agonisingly close on the stroke of half-time when Carson’s cross hit the inside of the post before somehow bouncing to safety.
Shields continued their positive play after-half-time, and David Foley suffered frustration when his goal-bound effort was inadvertently blocked by team-mate Scroggins, before being denied by two more blocks.
The Mariners were caught out at the other end 13 minutes from the end, though, when Stephen Francis’ ball through the centre was met by Home-Jackson and diverted low past Pocklington.
That left Shields with a lot of work to do to salvage even a point, but substitute Grey smashed a free-kick from the right into the top corner to mark the start of his Shields career in style.
The hosts could have snuffed out the Mariners’ hopes of a point hopes soon after, but Pocklington kept out a low effort from substitute Damien Stevens when he broke clear.
Urged on by a travelling support of over 200, Shields pushed for a leveller, and were denied a penalty with two minutes left when Teasdale’s dink into the box struck a defender and sparked huge appeals.
Further hope was given to the Mariners as the match ticked into stoppage time when Gordon was sent off for a second booking, seemingly for time wasting.
With the home side trying everything to see the game out, the referee opted to play seven minutes of stoppage time, and Shields threw all they could at their opponents, but ultimately could not break through.
SOUTH SHIELDS: Pocklington, Carson, Turner, Hall, Riding (Grey 61), Smith, Sakr (Bulford 74), Scroggins (c), Byrne, Teasdale, Foley. Subs not used: Young, Briggs, Hassan.
Goals: Teasdale (25), Grey (83).